Occupy New Haven celebrated its six-month anniversary Sunday afternoon amid calls to leave by city officials, New Haven residents and some of their own members.
Over 50 people gathered at Occupy New Haven’s encampment on the Upper Green for an afternoon of music and food as they commemorated the protest’s arrival at the site on Oct. 15. But with some members leaving the protest and calling for its removal from the Green and Occupy’s third court date in its lawsuit against the city set for Tuesday, protesters may not have much more to celebrate.
Following a ruling by federal Judge Mark Kravitz that the city’s request for protesters to clear the Green was legal, city workers began to evict protesters last Tuesday. But Occupy attorney Norm Pattis successfully received a last-minute stay from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York, and city officials were forced to allow protesters to stay for at least another week.
A hearing before the appeals court is set for Tuesday at 10 a.m. to determine, again, whether the city can proceed with removing the encampment. Mayor John DeStefano Jr. pledged to fight protesters in court for the “interests of the city,” which he defined as clearing the space to be used for all New Haven residents.
“In the six months that the Occupy encampment has existed on the Green, the city has acted in a cooperative and supportive fashion in terms of free speech,” DeStefano said at an afternoon press conference following the announcement of Kravitz’s ruling. “But this has become an obnoxious use on the Green by a few people. I don’t think it’s appropriate for a few to monopolize one of the central assets of the city — the people of New Haven deserve the New Haven Green back.”
Chief Administrative Officer Robert Smuts ’01 estimated that Occupy New Haven has cost the city over $60,000 in police overtime since the protest began, in addition to nearly $2,000 per month spent on bathroom facilities and trash services for the encampment. The cost to clean up and rehabilitate the Green, he estimated, could be as high as $25,000 after the encampment leaves, which could leave the total price tag for Occupy around $100,000.
Josh Smith, who has been involved with Occupy New Haven since October and is one of eight plaintiffs listed in the court case against the city, posted on the group’s Facebook page last Wednesday asking fellow protesters to consider leaving the Green following the six-month anniversary celebration. Occupy New Haven’s real enemy, he reminded his fellow protesters, is the “1 percent,” not the city or the police, and he said he would drop his name from the case.
“Six months is longer than any other occupation made it, and that is a formidable victory,” Smith wrote. “I think we stand to regain a lot of our supporters (and gain more supporters) if we pack up the camp and make sure the Green gets cleaned up.”
But at a weekly general assembly meeting that night, none of the other protesters sided with Smith. He later posted on the Facebook page that somebody had called him a “traitor” for making the suggestion.
Protesters’ ability to stay on the Green will hinge on Tuesday’s court decision. If the city is granted legal authority to remove protesters, it will be the third time city workers have tried to evict Occupy New Haven in a month, following last week’s stalled eviction and the city’s first attempt in March.
Occupy protesters initially enjoyed a cooperative relationship with City Hall when it arrived last fall. With the arrival of warmer temperatures, however, city officials and the Green’s legal proprietors — a private group that has perpetuated itself since 17th century — said they were concerned that Occupy’s presence on the Green was hindering the ability of other residents to use the space. They also cited concerns that the encampment could cause long-term damage to the Green.
After two February meetings between city officials and protesters failed to reach a compromise, city officials issued a notice that the Green would have to be cleared of tents by March 14. But following a last-minute lawsuit by Pattis, federal judge Janet Hall gave Occupy protesters permission to remain on the Green through March 28, when Kravitz heard the case. Kravitz then extended Occupy’s deadline to stay on the Green a second time to last week in order to give himself time to issue a decision, which the court of appeals will review on Tuesday.
Occupy New Haven, a branch of the international anti-economic-inequality Occupy protest movement, is the oldest surviving Occupy encampment in New England.